The Hot Sheet Reviewed (first November 2017 edition)

The Hot Sheet is a publishing industry news-sheet for authors, produced every two weeks by Porter Anderson and Jane Friedman, and reviewed here every other Sunday as one of the best twice-monthly industry overviews available to authors.

We’re not interested in delivering breaking news, but perspective on stories that are likely to retain meaning for your long-term decision making. We provide distance and nuance on complex issues that affect all authors, whether traditionally published or self-published.


The Hot Sheet - every other Wednesday

The Hot Sheet – every other Wednesday

One of the great things about the Hot Sheet is that you never quite know what to expect.

While always topical, the Hot Sheet isn’t a publishing news-sheet so much as a publishing insights sheet, and because it only rolls out every other week it is able to offer some perspective on the topics covered that the news reports sometimes miss.

Take Wattpad, for example.

The Hot Sheet‘s opening gambit is how Wattpad, the Canadian free-reading programme, was picked out for mention at the Sharjah International Book Fair by International Publishing Association president Michiel Kolman.

The vast volume of content uploaded weekly to platforms like Wattpad is staggering … It’s also proof that—thank goodness—young people aren’t just slumped in front of Netflix. They’re also writing.

It’s a fascinating observation, that warrants closer consideration.

Kolman offers us a reminder first that Wattpad, while the biggest, is one of countless free-reading sites where authors can upload content at no cost and readers can access it at no cost.

Some might ask, who needs it? There’s more free ebooks on Amazon than anyone could ever read in a lifetime and anyone can load to KDP.

But therein lies the answer, in part, to the question. Because wonderful as the Amazon Kindle store is for authors to get their work in front of readers, the Kindle store has nowhere near the global reach of Wattpad. Vast tracts of the world are either surcharged (the whispernet surcharge averaging $2 is added to the bill in many countries not in the Kindle zones – even for “free” ebooks) or blocked from even seeing the Kindle store.

Wattpad is, subject to localised government restrictions, available the world over. If you have a smartphone and an internet connection you can read on Wattpad, making it the first port of call for countless millions of readers entirely comfortable with digital reading, but who simply cannot access our regular ebooks from our big North America-based stores.

I singled out Amazon, as the biggest player, but for clarity Nook is only available in the USA, Apple has just 51 global stores and Google Play 75. Kobo has theoretical worldwide reach but outside of a handful of localised stores readers are redirected to the US store, but with only a fraction of the titles available to US readers.

At the same time, as Kolman notes, there is a “staggering” volume of content being uploaded to Wattpad, and while a proportion of that content comes from writers from the Anglophone US/UK/CA/AU/NZ axis, a great deal more is coming from those self-same countries that are excluded from participating in the “regular” ebook trade of the North American Big 5.

It’s not rocket science to work out the untapped opportunity out there to service the global readers and authors currently disenfranchised by the Big 5 ebook purveyors, and therefore no surprise that the Chinese e-commerce titan Tencent has invested serious money in Wattpad as it moves to become a global player in the online literature scene.

What’s interesting to watch right now is to what extent the Big 5 western ebook players are even looking at the global markets.

Let’s return to Amazon, on paper the most capable of going truly global, but self-evidently not that bothered. Is the whispernet surcharge simply a throwback to yesteryear, when the cost of delivering content to a far-flung land needed to be addressed, that has since simply been forgotten about? Or is it a deliberate ploy to deter ebook engagement in countries outside the Kindle zones?

There’s no question that, if the whispernet surcharge was dropped and if the Kindle store was made globally accessible, Amazon could pull in a lot more ebook sales and downloads.

So why doesn’t it? Kobo manages to be globally accessible, so it’s not like there are technological or financial constraints Amazon couldn’t deal with.

Territorial rights will be a consideration, but most indie authors loading to KDP tick the world rights box, so all that content can be contractually sold anywhere, via the US store.

We can only speculate on Amazon’s indifference to the wider market. For Apple and Google Play the picture is a little clearer as they are geared to mainstream publishing content’s territorial restrictions, with indie content an afterthought.

Only Kobo and Amazon have an “international” store, and only Kobo’s is truly international in reach.

But in practical terms the twin problems of readers being able to pay for digital content and authors being able to receive payments for uploaded content are still being solved.

The likelihood is strong that the next movers to come forward with a solution to those two problems and become the first truly global players will also be players less reliant on mainstream publishers than the Big 5 ebook purveyors are.

And while not the only contender, Wattpad is certainly a front-runner.

Quoting the Hot Sheet’s “bottom Line”,

Years ago, Wattpad co-founder Allen Lau mildly scandalized an audience of trade publishers at a BookExpo conference by telling them that the way to monetize Wattpad would become apparent in its own good time. Clearly, the time has arrived…

Wattpad already has global reach like no other, and with Tencent’s money and ambitions towards the nascent markets we could see something quite extraordinary unfold as this decade winds up.

For further insights into Wattpad in addition to what the Hot Sheet offers, see my recent post here at The New Publishing Standard.

Blockchain came under scrutiny in the Hot Sheet, but as I’ve already covered this piece in a post here at The New Publishing Standard a day or so ago I’ll move on to the Instaread problem.

Instaread, not to be confused with Instagram, is described by Anderson and Friedman as

an iOS app (Android releases to come) that uses in-house writers to produce summaries of nonfiction books to help busy people absorb the content of those books in a few minutes. Insights and takeaways are offered in easy-to-digest written summaries of about 3,500 words; there also are short audio editions.

And, apparently, 50,000 more such audio-editions planned.

Friedman and Anderson explained that Instagram is a short-form content subscription service that has “attracted three rounds of venture funding totaling $1.7 million since 2014.”

How much do the authors of the original books get? The Hot Sheet duo were told by Instaread that

no licensing agreements were needed because Instaread’s content falls under fair-use provisions of copyright law … For more than 100 years, this use of a book’s text for review purposes has been recognized as fair use under US copyright law, and Instaread conducts regular internal and external audits to ensure that its reviews always stay within long-accepted fair-use guidelines.

Read more at the Hot Sheet, else I’ll be in danger of pushing the boundaries of fair use myself.

But this reminded me very much of the recent court case involving Moppet Books, where the publisher was found guilty of copyright violation.

That was for fiction titles reworked. Is what Instaread doing with non-fiction titles so very different?

Innocent until proven guilty, of course, but this does sound like a case that may end up in the courts for a final decision.

That was just two of many stories in the latest edition of the Hot Sheet.

Anderson and Friedman also cover how Australia is preparing itself for the arrival of Amazon (there’s been a kindle store in Australia since 2013, and as so often happens it has proved to be the spearhead of a much more ambitious play).

Again, you’ll need to pop along to the Hot Sheet for the full story, but I’ll quote here Anderson and Friedman’s “bottom line” to summarise:

Australia has been admirable in its preparations for Amazon’s arrival. Ahead of Amazon’s launch, the Australia Post launched a delivery program called Shipster, which essentially mimics Amazon Prime by offering free delivery from local retailers. Some believe that Amazon’s arrival won’t be as devastating as feared; they point to Canada, where Amazon’s market share is five times smaller than in the United States. The large size and scattered population distribution of both countries, experts say, pose significant logistical challenges for Amazon.

The other featured story in the Hot Sheet was about translations, Anderson and Friedman asking, “Is the Time Right for Translations to Gain Traction?”

Porter Anderson has been at the still-ongoing Sharjah International Book Fair where translations were a hot topic.

Noting AmazonCrossing, the translations arm of Amazon Publishing, has “already translated more than 300 titles (67 this year alone) in 21 languages from 36 countries,” Anderson quotes AmazonCrossing editorial director Gabriella Page-Fort as saying

AmazonCrossing is actively courting the wider industry for content that might otherwise be missed, a departure from the agent-focused route used by most translation houses.

As ever, more on this story in the Hot Sheet.

And lots of other stuff too, from publishing briefs to the Hot Sheet Index, to the Hot Sheet Directory, and Upcoming Events Where You’ll Find Us.

Anderson and Friedman, that is, not me. I’m in West Africa hermit mode nowadays, but looking on enviously as the dynamic duo (Porter Anderson – PA and Jane Friedman – JF) jet off to

  • StoryDrive Asia (PA), Singapore, Nov. 13–14
  • Shanghai International Children’s Book Fair (PA), Nov. 17–19
  • Knowledge Summit (JF), Dubai, Nov. 21–22
  • FutureBook (PA), London, Dec. 1

London in December? Too cold for me! We’re just heading into winter here in West Africa and temperatures will plunge to the low twenties Celsius some nights.

But I’ll have my bi-weekly Hot Sheet to keep me warm.

Click here to find out more about the Hot Sheet, and get a thirty day free trial (two free issues, as it publishes every other Wednesday).

NB: The New Publishing Standard does not carry affiliate links and we receive no compensation from any mention of any service, paid or otherwise.

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